Worcester native Eric Butler founded Broadway in Worcester in March 2022 and in just 10 months he has brought three of Broadway’s biggest names to Worcester.
Broadway in Worcester kicked off in March with An Evening with Tony Award Winner Laura Benanti which featured songs from Laura’s career (My Fair Lady, She Loves Me, and more) along with humorous anecdotes and experiences that she has encountered on and off the stage and screen. Laura and celebrated music director and accompanist Grammy Award winner Billy Stritch provided a sold-out Worcester audience with an unforgettable night.
An Evening with Chita Rivera, in September, was a fireside chat style show where Chita sang her hits from West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spiderwoman, while breaking between to have a conversation with Seth Rudetsky, her pianist, recalling stories about Jerry (Jerome Robbins), Bob Fosse, and Gwen Verdon.
Finally, this past January Broadway in Worcester welcomed Kelli O’Hara. O’Hara has seven Tony Award nominations and a Tony Award win for her portrayal of Anna Leonowens in The King and I. She has been hailed by The New York Times as “Broadway musical’s undisputed queen.” Her other notable Broadway credits also include: Kiss Me, Kate, The Bridges of Madison County, Nice Work If You Can Get It, South Pacific, The Pajama Game, and The Light in the Piazza – performances all of which earned her Tony nominations.
What is unique about Broadway in Worcester is that Eric lines up his concerts with a free master class experience that involves workshops and a Q&A session for high school and college students in the region, along with their arts educators.
This experience is the equivalent of an NBA player coming to a local high school and doing drills with student athletes. These performers are at the top of their game, and to have the legendary Chita Rivera give performance tips to a high school student looking to pursue a career in the performing arts is a once in a lifetime opportunity and an absolute gift to the community.
I sat down with Eric after his whirlwind year at Root & Press in Worcester (one of his favorite spots) to talk about Broadway in Worcester and what’s coming down the pike.
Eric, 3 big shows in 10 months and this is a part-time gig for you, how did you do it?
It’s been a crazy 10 months..
Laura, Chita, Kelli….aside from being the best of the best, what made you choose them specifically?
They were all performers I personally love; I thought Laura would kick things off in a big fun energetic way, Broadway’s equivalent of a rock star; I thought she would bring a lot of energy and excitement to the launch.
The only way to top Laura was to go with a true Broadway legend, so we had Chita Rivera, a Tony Award winner, Kennedy Center honoree, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. There’s really no way to top that, so for our third star I chose a personal favorite, Kelli O’Hara.
In 2015, Eric brought Kelli O’Hara to Saint John’s High School to headline the grand opening of Founders Hall and the Robert R. Jay Performing Arts Center.
Since its inception, Broadway in Worcester has offered free workshops to students in Worcester County, why was the education component important to you?
In some respect, I’ve spent my career in education. I worked at Saint John’s High School, then worked in the edTech sector at at edX, and now I’m at City Year; the importance of education and arts in education has always been important to me and so I always knew I wanted to couple our performances with educational opportunities for the students in our community. For the last three performances with Benanti, Rivera, and O’Hara we have officially partnered with Worcester Public Schools and the Hanover Theatre Conservatory, but we open the opportunity to all local high schools, colleges, and universities. Each of our programs have seen participants from over 30 schools in Central MA. With this past workshop being in early January, we even had several Worcester area students who were home on break from college in attendance. We spread the word through local media, social media (Instagram and Facebook), and email. Typically, we have been averaging 150 students and teachers for every session. These performers are big names on stage and screen; these students are essentially being taught by the Lebron James of Broadway.
Aimee Kewley, the Arts Department Head at said, “The educational opportunities that Broadway in Worcester has been able to give my students have been exceptional. The opportunity to listen to the stories of Broadway greats, have one on one workshops, and ask questions enriches their arts education beyond just a classroom setting.”
“Broadway in Worcester presents Worcester area students with once in-a-lifetime experiences to meet and learn from Broadway performers, said Notre Dame Academy Director of Theater, Nicole Lian. “Except we’ve been fortunate enough to attend three times so far! The opportunity for our students and educators to attend free master classes has been incredible! We have all been in awe of these talented performers and anxiously await the announcement of the next Broadway celebrity to visit Worcester!!”
Both Ms. Kewley and Mrs. Lian’s students participated in all three workshops.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the people and organizations that help to make this series possible. While the Broadway concert series is designed to be sustainable through event ticket sales, the free educational programming for Worcester area students is supported entirely by local philanthropy. The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory is graciously serving as Broadway in Worcester’s 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor and past supporters of our educational programs include The George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation, The Fletcher Foundation, Barr Foundation, Worcester Cultural Coalition/JMAC 2022 Accessibility Initiative, and UniBank.
What are your plans for Broadway in Worcester for the upcoming year?
We’ll definitely have another Tony award winner coming to Worcester this calendar year. We had three performers in our first 10 months, we hope to have at least 2 A-list stars coming in this year. My dream list: Lin Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. doing a show together…Harry Connick Jr. would be great too…Christian Borle would be fun… Audra MacDonald…Aaron Tveit… As the Xaverian Brothers say, “In harmony, small things grow”, I’ll adopt that philosophy and let things grow organically as the community demands it.
A very important question… how did our guests like Worcester?
They were charmed by Worcester and the Worcester audiences.
Each one of them referenced the warmth of the community and were truly touched by the resounding appreciation for the arts. Chita received three standing ovations! That makes the experience more meaningful for them, it doesn’t feel like just another gig. Because the setting is so intimate, they are really able to connect with the audiences each night, and vice versa.
Not only do we welcome these stars to Worcester, but we also find a way to involve our community…it creates a holistic experience. For all three shows we have partnered with local businesses like Glazy Susan, Suzette’s Creperie, and Queen’s Cups to create signature items that co-brand the event, Glazy Susan created All That Razz for Chita Rivera; she enjoyed the donut so much on her first day in Worcester that she asked me to pick her up some more to bring back to her daughter in Connecticut. They also created an ice cream sundae donut in honor of Laura Benanti’s role in “She Loves Me” where she sang the song “Vanilla Ice Cream”, and Kelli brought home “Kiss Me, Cake” cupcakes to her children from The Queen’s Cups. These performers have tens and thousands of followers on social media and when they share their photos with their treats from Worcester with their following it brings attention to our city and recognition to these creative business owners.
If people are interested in your next show, where should they go, and what should they expect?
You can learn more about Broadway in Worcester on our website broadwayinworcester.com or by following us on Facebook and Instagram.
As for what to expect, each show offers the option of regular tickets or a VIP package. The VIP packages include a VIP Meet & Greet with Photo Op and preferred seating, Broadway in Worcester swag, local items from sponsors (e.g. Table Talk Pies, Greater Good Pulp Daddy, 90+ Wines), etc. If you’ve been to the BrickBox theater at the JMAC, you know that there’s not a bad seat in the house.
Any hints about who’ll be coming to Worcester next?
(Eric smiles) We’ll be announcing this Spring.